Healthcare providers experienced drastic changes in 2020. Financial plans were demolished. Patients avoided face-to-face routine visits and elective (and even necessary) surgical procedures. Healthcare professionals quickly scrambled to provide virtual ways to connect so they could simultaneously minimize risks to patients and employees and stay afloat. The future of telehealth advanced by a decade in one year.
While telemedicine before March 2020 was inconsistent, providers and insurers recognized the value. Since then, accessibility to this form of care has been fast-tracked. Both the technology and customer experience have shattered decades-old perceptions of healthcare best practices. Healthcare providers onboarded flexible, digital platforms at a rapid rate to handle everything from routine check-ups to anxiety and depression treatment. Telehealth visits have increased from thousands to millions in the Medicare population alone.
When Telehealth Works Best
The constraints and fears caused by the pandemic have pushed telehealth usage from the fringe to the norm. The advantages of doing so have become quite apparent. In the past, primary care professionals were resistant to these changes because they believed in-person appointments, where you see, touch, and hear patients, were the ideal. In practice though, remote visits provide wider access and more inclusivity for lower-income, working-class, black and brown communities, women, and the elderly. Telehealth provides faster, easier, and more consistent contact between patients and primary care providers. These remote capabilities may even ease primary care professionals’ workloads and administrative burdens.
There will be short- and long-term payoffs in both human and economics with more patient-provider interactions. The long-term goals will include right-sizing telemedicine and discovering where virtual experiences make the most sense. This also provides health insurance companies the opportunity to evaluate reimbursement plans for telehealth vs. in-person appointments. Segmentation research and cost analysis both will help answer questions regarding the specifics of the future of telehealth. No matter what though, telemedicine is here to stay in terms of primary care; and, specialists may benefit from the advantages, too.
Diabetes Care Is Optimally Suited for Telemedicine
The advantages of primary care are even more emphasized for specialists, particularly for those caring for patients likely to develop or living with diabetes. For these patients, prevention is everything. Diabetic wounds frequently do not begin at six centimeters or more but as a tiny collection of red dots that slowly expand over time. Daily self-examination, therefore, is critical to assure early intervention. Podiatrists can provide more consistent care regarding diabetic ulcers with a diabetic patient who is miles away by having more frequent appointments.
For both diabetics and those with kidney disease, measuring blood pressure, dietary salt, and medication intake at home has been shown to improve control over time. Due to COVID’s more severe risks to those with diabetes, larger numbers of patients are receiving home dialysis according to The National Kidney Association.
Experts have long touted the benefits of peritoneal dialysis over in-center dialysis, which include controlling extra fluid, reducing stress on heart and blood vessels, reducing negative side effects like nausea and cramping, and more continuous therapy, which mimics the natural kidney process. The pandemic has created an opportunity to validate these advantages. The risk of acquiring communicable diseases to those receiving center-based hemodialysis is real. Transportation organization also can be a major headache. With fewer healthcare and center visits and less exposure to communicable diseases, diabetics with chronic kidney disease receiving home-based dialysis have increased advantages.
Virtual Health Data Will Increase in Value
Healthcare providers and insurers will not only be able to use the wealth of digital information to pull up charts from specialists in multiple locations to improve continuity of care but tracking data also will be useful to healthcare organizations seeking to refine their strategic development. Data can illuminate strengths and weaknesses within the patient/customer journey along with clinician satisfaction as well as ways to reduce costs.
New healthcare services and enterprises are betting on this disruption. The rapid transition from traditional in-person care to the adoption of telehealth has opened the doors for many new organizations to enter the market. The future of telehealth after COVID remains glaringly bright.
Soon there will be competition for the best platforms for virtual postsurgical monitoring for procedures and other types of wounds. Information and technology communications giants are entering this space as well – from Microsoft’s HealthVault to Verizon’s FDA-approved remote monitoring platform for biometric devices to Baxter’s CKD&Me, a new phone application and learning tool for patients with chronic kidney disease. Data support, monitoring, and analysis will become important differentiators for these technology platforms. Organizations that will win or move the needle on these expanding needs will provide ongoing questions to investigate — and we’re here to help.
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Related reading: How To Reengage Healthcare Consumers After COVID-19